We finished packing and called for a taxi to pick us up from the Condo at 11:00 to take us to BART. We rode BART to SFO and got off at terminal 3. Jim thought that our flight was from Terminal 1 but we never left Terminal 3 which is the international terminal. The next thing I knew we were checking in our baggage at Air France. I suggested to Jim that Air France flew to Europe, not the States and he informed me that they also flew to New Zealand. We had a hamburger for lunch and then headed for the gate, which turned out to be to Paris! I was informed that Paris would not be our final destination. The flight was lovely, good food, movies but long – 9 hours to get to Paris.
We got to sleep on the plane so we were not entirely gone when we arrived in Paris at 3AM our time on Sunday.
We arrived in Paris at 11:25. We changed flights and it wasn’t until we got to the gate that I read the sign and found out that we were headed for Florence, Italy! We were going to spend 2 weeks in Italy with our first 5 days in the Tuscany region.
We arrived in Florence at 3:20 pm tired but very excited. We rented a diesel Ford Fusion, loaded our luggage and took off for Villa Basilewsky in Cutigliano. Our first purchase was a Coca-Cola Light at the Airport for 2€ ($3.80) in order to get money for the autostrada. Most of the 4 lane and larger highways in Italy are toll roads and we learned as time when by to use the smaller, two lane highways to save the toll and to see more of the countryside. We missed one of the turn-offs but recovered easily and headed up the mountain to Cutigliano. After driving through several small, ancient villages, we reached the hotel, checked-in and went down for dinner at 8:30. The meal was fabulous and consisted of the typical 3 courses: salami and cheese antipasto, 2 soups that we shared, and beef steak from a local breed of beef. We couldn’t get a glass of wine and had to purchase a bottle. Thinking that we wouldn’t drink a whole bottle the waiter suggested that we drink ½ and then he would save the other half for dinner the next night that we had dinner. We ended up drinking the whole bottle and then were offered a cake made by the receptionist from Germany. It was a chocolate layered cake with chocolate cake on the bottom, layered bananas covered with a clear glaze, a cream layer topped with a hard chocolate shell. It was delicious and we got to meet the creator and thank her for her efforts. Giovanni then served us an after dinner wine on the house that was like a Muscat or Granello. During dinner Giovanni explained that the hotel was originally the summer home of a Russian princess (probably a Countess) and was given to the waiter that worked at the villa when she died. The villa was converted to a very nice hotel and is busiest during the ski season. There are 2 lifts nearby. Giovanni seemed to be at work all day and all night. He told us about things to see and checked with us every evening to see how our day had been and find out what things he might be able to offer near our destination for the next day’s sightseeing. We headed for bed and I had some trouble getting to sleep as it was now about 3:00 pm San Francisco-time. Benadryl is a wonderful thing.
We had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel with some interesting selections. My favorite was the yogurts and the crusty breads with cheeses and hams. We had cappuccino and juice and then headed for the train to ride into Florence for the day. The train ride was fun. We found out when we were almost there that we were sitting across from a Scottish couple that were on holiday. The train station was crowded and not so clean, maybe like a bus station at home, but much larger. Jim had worked with the hotel staff to find a walking tour of Florence and we started with the Cathedral right across from the train station. It was as magnificence as one can imagine from the slides and photos from a Renaissance Art History class. I was not disappointed and the day only got better the more we walked. The Dome was a completely different era, earlier than the Renaissance, and we climbed 469 steps to the top on circular stone stair ways only wide enough to accommodate a single small person. Thanks goodness they had an up and a down side. The view of Florence from the top was breath-taking and, of course, could not be captured with digital pictures even though we tried. We never tired of the narrow streets, multi-story ancient buildings and shuttered windows decorated with window boxes of colored geraniums. Because we were on foot, we were able to wander down side streets to peek at the residential sections as well as the business areas around the squares and plazas. We had a cold sandwich from a small shop in the city that was not that great. I was grateful for the pain medication that I brought along as the day of walking and all of the stairs would have been very uncomfortable without them. We returned to the hotel in the dark and were happy to crawl into bed.
Cappuccino started the day again for the both of us. Jim had set aside his self proclaimed caffeine abstinence for the trip as we were getting up in what was the middle of the night at home. I had tried without success to get a macchiato as the coffee was so strong, but something got lost in the translation. We headed out again with the promise to Giovanni to return at 9:00 for dinner. Since we seemed to be the only patrons for the week, it seemed awkward for them to have a full staff for dinner just because we were there. We headed north and the views of Tuscany where incredible. Our destination turned out to be the winery of some very good Chianti Classico that Sal and Jim had bought from Sharon and Sal’s favorite Italian restaurant in Gilroy before Christmas last year. With the difficulties of following the road signs in Italy, we were late for the tour but made it in time for the wine tasting. After the tasting we were told that we could join the 3:00 pm tour but not the tasting part because the tour was full. In the mean time it was suggested that we eat at the Osteria at the winery for lunch. The meal was fabulous, 3 courses again as well as a bottle of wine. The appetizer was a rabbit loaf wrapped in a pastry crust that was delicious. We had a noodle and fish sauce first course and we can’t remember what we had for the main course. Crème Brule and chocolate gelato with a hard chocolate shell made up dessert. I was wondering how we were going to repeat the whole meal thing again at 9:00 because even with sharing 1 meal between the two of us, I was stuffed.
We finished just in time for the tour which was interesting and then Jim decided to go look at the outside of the castle Brolio even though we had been told that there were no tours because it was still a residence for the Count Brolio and his family. Turns out that a 5€ admission fee allowed you to walk the grounds and view the castle chapel. The chapel was decorated as beautifully as either of the cathedrals we saw in Florence the day before. It was only after I got closer to the Nave that I realized that what I thought were frescos on the walls were actually mosaics. The detail in the colors was beyond belief. Underneath the chapel was the family mausoleum with family members dating back to the early 1800’s and plenty of space for more crypts to be filled. The rest of the grounds where fascinating. The castle was built during two different eras. The older was made of granite blocks and the newer was made of red brick. The castle walls were thick enough to allow a walking path on the parameter. A formal garden was still in good repair (probably from the admission fees) both inside and outside the enormous walls. Beyond the gardens were the grape vineyards and Tuscany as far as the eye could see. It was like being in a medieval wonderland. You could go into the corners of the wall and look out through the viewing slits just as they must have done centuries ago to keep the castle secure. Jim met a couple from Annapolis, VA that was just as taken with the venue as we were. When we move to VA we will look them up.
We left just in time to return to the villa for our 9:00 dinner date and again missed seeing the scenery on the way back up the mountains. We decided to share a dinner again because of the large lunch and enjoyed another 3 course meal. The spinach raviolis with meat sauce were like nothing we have had in the States with a serving of the special after dinner wine that we received on Sunday night, on the house, of course. This evening we had adjusted to the time change enough to have no trouble falling asleep in the equivalent of the middle of the day at home.
Venice! We left with Sarah and Justin in the morning drove to Castia and caught the train for the 1 hour ride to Venice. From there we walked through the town to St. Marks Square. I still have no idea how the city was built and will have to research how they did the underwater construction without diving gear or cranes. We opted not to take an €80 ($120) gondola ride because the streets were very little different from the canal view. The shops, residences, squares, watering troughs, and Madonna shrines were of constant amazement, even by the end of the day.
Pastries and Lattes for Breakfast at the train station
Fresh wine – vintage yesterday
Cannole (sweet bread not pastry)
Calazone for a very late lunch
Dinner at the Spaghetti House: Quatro Fremagio, gnocci with duck and cream sauce, meat sampler plate, 2 different types of dessert drinks, Lemon Scorpino and a berry/cream grappa that was to die for.